Aspen’s Huffman follows up Emmy with starring film role
September 30, 2005
Felicity Huffman caught the acting bug at a screening of “Romeo and Juliet” – Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version – at the old, single-screen Isis Theatre in downtown Aspen.Watching a teenage Olivia Hussey playing the ill-fated Juliet, the 7-year-old Aspenite imagined herself on that screen someday. “I thought, Yes! That’s what I want to do,” Huffman said. (Her mother, Woody Creeker Grace Huffman, certainly wouldn’t have shared that view with her youngest of seven daughters, as Hussey’s role scandalously included much nudity. Reconstructing the scenario, Felicity assumes she was taken by one of her sisters, most likely while Mom was out of town.)Over time, through plays at the Aspen Community School, summers at an acting camp in New Hampshire, college at New York University and a series of tiny roles in TV, movies and on stage, Huffman adjusted her sights lower. Instead of playing Juliet on the big screen, she found herself cast as the “Wheel of Fortune” girl in 1988’s “Things Change,” and “attorney” in 1995’s “Hackers”.”As you grow up and get educated in the business, you go from, ‘I want to do movies’ to ‘I want to work. In whatever,'” Huffman said by phone.
Huffman’s work of late has landed well outside the “whatever” category. Last year, she found herself at the center of TV’s top-rated show and cause celebre “Desperate Housewives,” playing the frazzled corporate exec-turned-mother Lynette. Last month, the 42-year-old climbed even higher on the TV chain, earning an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series.And Huffman, for the first time, finds herself in a starring cinematic role. In writer-director Duncan Tucker’s “Transamerica,” she plays Bree, a pre-operative transsexual who goes on a cross-country trip with Toby, her recently discovered son. Aspen Filmfest shows the film at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Wheeler Opera House. “Transamerica” has had only a small handful of festival screenings in advance of its scheduled early December limited release, but Huffman is already earning raves, including a best actress award from the Tribeca Film Festival.The opportunity to play Bree, to embody a man and a woman, a parent and a nonparent, in a single role, Huffman calls “an actor’s dream.” It may not have the glamour of Juliet, but it’s got most everything else. “To play a man becoming a woman, that’s something you can sink your teeth into. It’s dense. Thick. A lot of layers. It’s pastry – you just keep piling it on,” Huffman said.Huffman wasn’t waiting around for just the exact right part to come out as a film actress. The success she has experienced is too recent, to date too brief, and she knows potentially too fleeting to feel she has made it as an actress. In fact, Huffman comes off as the most humble, hopeful soul in Hollywood, rather than someone on top of the heap.
“I would have taken any movie. I wasn’t holding myself back for anything,” she said. “You’re a journeyman actor, you take anything. I jumped at this.”Huffman is, perhaps, haunted by her past failures. She reports being fired from Neil Simon’s Broadway production of “Jake’s Women.” (Though she also starred in David Mamet’s “Speed-the-Plow,” taking over the role originated by Madonna, and earned an Obie Award for her work in Mamet’s “Cryptogram.”) She was fired from the pilot for the TV comedy “Thunder Alley”; when informed that the pilot was going to be re-shot, Huffman expressed that she was upset over having to travel back for the extra work. No, a friend explained, it was being redone without her. (But she also was nominated for a Golden Globe in 2000 for her work on “Sports Night.”)Huffman assumed “Transamerica” was another one that wasn’t going to make it onto her résumé. “The script I loved,” she said. “And I thought some lucky actress will get to do it. But not me. Someone with clout.”Huffman got it, and her husband, actor/writer/director William H. Macy, signed on as executive producer. She found the role as challenging and rewarding as they come.
“You drop one piece and the whole thing falls apart,” she said. “It felt like a high-wire act. And it’s so physical. Everything had to be going – the right walk and look and getting your voice to drop six octaves. And beyond the physicality, you have to get the emotional truth and connect with the actors.”Plus, I felt a responsibility to the transgender community.”Judging from the early response to “Transamerica,” Huffman should have further film opportunities. But she says she never had been asked to read many scripts, and isn’t sure “Transamerica,” or the Emmy, will change that. In some ways, she’s more the struggling actress getting cut from bad sitcoms than the award-winner.”It’s surprising to me that I’m a working actress with a TV show,” said the mother of two young girls. “I keep waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘No, not you.'”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com